Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the cleverest version of Ford's innovative compact B-MAX family carrier.
Ten Second Review
Yes, the fact that the Ford B-MAX has no B-pillar at the side and a huge door aperture may have grabbed the headlines, but there's so much more to this car than the cleverness of the way you get into it. Sidestep that distraction and there's a three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo engine and some very interesting cabin features to take in as well.
The Ford B-MAX isn't a replacement for the Ford Fusion. Oh no. Mention that to Ford personnel and you get the evil eye in return. The Fusion may have been pensioned off just as the B-MAX was launched and they may both be targeting the same sort of family buyer who needs a little more space than a Fiesta will offer, but perhaps Ford is shy of association with the underperforming Fusion.
The last time Ford introduced a vehicle that made its immediate predecessor look so instantly antediluvian was when the Sierra was unveiled, instantly rendering the old Cortina to an age of bakelite telephones and valve radios. Yet with Fiesta, Focus and C-MAX models all competing for the attention of the smaller family, is there enough breathing room in the Ford range for the B-MAX to make its presence felt? Let's find out at the wheel of the efficient 1.0 EcoBoost petrol version.
The big talking point might well be the doors but under the bonnet, the key story really concerns a very intriguing petrol engine. Displacing just 1.0 litre and with three tiny pistons tasked with moving you and yours down the road at a respectable clip, the turbocharged Ecoboost engine punches above its weight, managing a respectable 100 or 120PS, depending on the variant you choose. The 120PS variant manages rest to sixty in 11.2s on the way to 117mph.
The B-MAX rides on the same chassis as the Fiesta and a good deal of work has gone into making sure that body rigidity is up to par and that side impact protection is also up to Ford's commendably high standards. Ultra-high-strength Boron steel is used in key load-bearing areas such that the door frames work together to absorb energy like a 'virtual B pillar'.
Parking shouldn't be a problem with an overall length of just 406cm which slots between the 395cm of a five-door Fiesta and the 436cm of a five-door Focus. With all that glass, visibility out of the vehicle is very good, Ford thankfully keeping the raked windscreen pillars to a manageable thickness.
Design and Build
With regard to practicality, the solution Ford's designers have up with combines conventional, hinged front doors and rear sliding doors. This approach integrates the traditional central pillar structure into the front and rear doors, rather than forming part of the bodyshell itself, and creates a huge, clear opening - more than 1.5 metres wide. This is around twice the width offered by competitors with alternative door concepts and makes it significantly easier to enter or exit the rear seats, attend to children in child seats, or load and unload shopping. B-MAX's twin sliding rear doors also make access easier in crowded streets or narrow parking bays. The front and rear doors can be opened completely independently, so the front or rear cabin can be accessed as required.
A flexible and easy-to-use seating system features 60/40 split rear seats which can be folded flat with a simple 'one-hand, one-motion' mechanism. The front passenger seat can also be folded, creating an extensive flat load floor capable of swallowing loads up to 2.34 metres long. The generous access makes it particularly convenient to load bulky items such as flat-pack furniture or even a bicycle through the side doors. An adjustable load floor in the boot creates a flat load space when the rear seats are lowered, with extra room underneath for valuable items.
With an overall vehicle height which is 12cm higher than the Fiesta, B-MAX offers drivers the benefits of a higher "command" seating position, and provides significantly improved rear seat legroom and headroom.
Market and Model
Though B-MAX pricing starts from just above £13,000, you'll need well over £16,000 to get yourself into the least powerful version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol model we're featuring here. You'd think that this model would compete against plusher, pokier versions of supermini MPVs like Nissan's Note, Toyota's Verso-S, Kia's Venga and Hyundai's ix20. Ford sees things slightly differently though, expecting this B-MAX to appeal to the sort of customer who might well be interested in a larger C-MAX compact MPV but lives in an urban area where parking spaces are tight and emissions need to be kept tightly in check.
The Blue Oval brand refers to its models in this family as 'Sports Activity Vehicles' and while the B-MAX doesn't seem immediately sporting, it'll doubtless appeal to those who may not have kids but need to cart a lot of kit around in order to support sports or gear-intensive hobbies but want the creature comforts of a car rather than the stigma of a light commercial vehicle with windows.
The B-MAX is the first European Ford to offer the company's acclaimed SYNC system. SYNC is an advanced voice control, device integration and connectivity interface. It enables users to connect mobile phones and music players by Bluetooth or USB, make hands-free telephone calls, and control music and other functions using voice commands. It can automatically transfer contact information from a connected Bluetooth device to the vehicle, allows calls to contacts to be activated using straight-forward voice commands and reads text messages aloud from compatible phones connected using Bluetooth.
SYNC also enables B-MAX to offer the innovative new Emergency Assistance feature which is designed to assist the occupants to call the local emergency services operator in the event of an accident.
Cost of Ownership
This B-MAX is impressively frugal if you opt for it with one of Ford's newer engines. Equipped with the 120PS version of the three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, it can return diesel frugality, managing 57.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2. The 100PS variant of this engine, without its stablemate's start/stop system, doesn't do quite as well, but is still impressive, managing 55.4mpg and 119g/km. To put those figures into perspective, a 1.5 TDCi diesel B-MAX manages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 109g/km of CO2, while, courtesy of Auto-Start-Stop, the 1.6-litre TDCi manages 70.6mpg and 104g/km.
These are figures that are up to 20% better than you'd get from rival competitors - and there's plenty of cleverness to ensure that you get somewhere close to them on a regular basis. The shift indicator on the dash for more fuel-efficient gear changes you might expect but the innovative Ford Eco Mode system might be more of a pleasant surprise. What's this? Well, it's a neat bit of software that continually assesses the effects of your driving behaviour on fuel consumption based on speed, gear shifting, anticipation and the length of the journey you're on. With all this taken into account, the system will offer advice on how to drive more efficiently.
Despite a sales record that's second to none, building innovation and desirability into small cars hasn't always been a Ford forte. The Blue Oval has always got the pounds and pence side of the equation squared away and that has driven fleet sales quite agreeably but family buyers looking for something distinctive have often found pickings a bit slim. The B-MAX could well change all of that, with Ford bringing the expertise that developed Galaxy, S-MAX and C-MAX models to bear in a miniaturised and even more intriguingly detailed format.
With its rear sliding doors that reveal no central B-pillars, the Ford B-MAX offers something unique that instantly makes its key rival, the Vauxhall Meriva, appear suddenly off the pace. Couple that with this eager 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit and you have a package that's just too singular to overlook.